A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Tricky Dick And Us

Tuesday will be the 42nd anniversary of the resignation of Richard Nixon, an event I celebrated by literally dancing in the streets.
Why did people like me despise him so? Partly, it was because he fought dirty. Starting with his first race against Jerry Voorhis, his favorite tactic was intimating that whoever stood in his way was a traitor.
But I think the real reason was because, as much as we hate to admit it, he was the true mirror of our national soul.
We want to think we're like Jack Kennedy - handsome, graceful, a hit with the girls. But the truth is that most of us are more like Nixon - insecure, resentful, and compulsively self-destructive.
I remember the night of the Kent State killings, when he tried to talk with protesters at the Lincoln Memorial by making chitchat about football. How we sneered!
It feels good to make fun of the class nerd. It makes you feel like part of the "in" crowd, even if you aren't.
Especially when you can feel so self-righteous about it. After all, this was Nixon the red-baiter, second only to Joe McCarthy as the arch-villain of the 1950s. He deserved all the bad things that happened to him, didn't he?
Yes and no. Sure, he looked silly talking about touchdowns and field goals to students who wanted to talk about war and peace. But it was the closest he could come to extending a hand. And we slapped it away, laughing at his lamenwss.
To a paranoid like Nixon, it must have been another confirmation of what life had been teaching him since childhood: He really was surrounded by enemies.
"What starts the process, really," he wrote about his passion for winning, "are the laughs and slights and snubs when you are a kid. But if your anger is deep enough and strong enough, you learn that you can change those attitudes by personal gut performance."
And Nixon had a childhood that would make anyone paranoid. His younger brother Arthur died from meningitis, then his older brother Harold died from tuberculosis.
Those illnesses ate up what little money the family had, and Nixon had to turn down a scholarship offer from Harvard and attend little Whittier College, instead. (No wonder he was so jealous of the Kennedys.)
And yet this loser, through sheer force of will, transformed himself into a winner. A lot of us thought he sold his soul in the process, but who among us is without sin? Our beloved Jack Kennedy's record isn't so hot when it comes to the McCarthy era, either. And remember, it was the Kennedys, not Nixon, who authorized the FBI wiretaps on Martin Luther King.
Ironically, after the fall of the Soviet Union the secret KGB files came to light, and it turned out that some of the people Nixon accused of espionage, like Alger Hiss, really were spies, after all.
I know it doesn't make up for Watergate. All I'm saying is that Nixon was speaking for us all when he pronounced his own epitaph the day he resigned: "Others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself."
There, but for the grace of God, go we.

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